Reports about the Claims Conference that included numerous errors and inaccuracies, many of them repetitive of ancient shibboleths that have not reflected the realities of the Claims Conference for many years have been widely published.
Here is the truth:
Contrary to those assertions, the Claims Conference is entirely transparent. Every year, it is subject to an audit by Ernst & Young. The entire financial statement resulting from that audit is posted on the Claims Conference Web site (www.claimscon.org).
The net assets of the Claims Conference as of the last audit — Dec. 31, 2005 — is not as alleged in a recent opinion piece as "billions of dollars" but $900 million, all of which is earmarked for specific purposes, such as payments to heirs of property in the former East Germany, to fund allocations that have been made, distribution to designated survivors and heirs, and to provide for the long-term needs of Jewish victims of Nazism.
In addition, every single Claims Conference allocation appears on the Web site, including the recipient, the amount and the purpose. The detailed guidelines of the criteria by which various allocations are made also appear online.
Reflecting the efficiency of the organization is the fact that the Claims Conference's Program for Former Slave and Forced Laborers has, in a span of five years, paid $1.4 billion to 177,000 Holocaust survivors and victims' heirs in 75 countries.
During those five years, the Claims Conference continued to negotiate with the German Foundation to include more survivors in the program. Due to Claims Conference persistence, certain survivors who had performed slave or forced labor in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria were able to be paid, though they had not been eligible when the program was established in 2000. The Claims Conference also negotiated — and obtained — additional significant funds from the German Foundation in order to pay the maximum permitted amount under the German Foundation law to living former slave and forced laborers, and to pay certain heirs of victims the highest amount possible given the resources of the German Foundation.
The Claims Conference's aggressive negotiations in 1990 with the German government allowed heirs to file claims for East German properties stolen in the 1930s. Had the Claims Conference not intervened during German reunification, those properties would have been forever lost to Jewish owners and heirs.
The Claims Conference established a "Goodwill Fund" to compensate heirs who came forward after the German 1992 deadline, and whose property the Claims Conference had recovered and met the fund's criteria. This fund was publicized around the world and on the Web site. Were it not for the recovery of these properties, they would have been forever lost to the claimants.
Proceeds from the property recovery over and above the goodwill payments are used to fund allocations, primarily to organizations and institutions providing vital services to Jewish victims of Nazism in 40 countries.
Claims Conference allocations are made with the input of a wide range of experts, and only after careful consideration of the needs of Jewish victims of Nazism in countries around the world. There are two professional advisory committees comprising experts in various areas of Claims Conference allocations, which thoroughly review many of the applications for grants. Half of the members of the Claims Conference Allocations Committee are Holocaust survivors.
In Israel, the Claims Conference has allocated $400 million since 1995, effectively revolutionizing care to Holocaust survivors. Conference funds in Israel provide vital homecare to 11,000 Nazi victims, including assistance with activities like bathing, dressing, eating and housekeeping. The Claims Conference has also helped build and upgrade nursing homes and geriatric hospital units caring for survivors; establish day centers and rehabilitation facilities; build and renovate housing for survivors; provide medical equipment and assistance; and in many other ways has vastly improved the quality of life for Nazi victims in the Jewish state as they age.
Securing more than $60 billion in payments to Holocaust survivors has been a massive and complicated achievement. Unfortunately, it's far easier to criticize from the outside than to accomplish what the Claims Conference has actually done.
Julius Berman is chairman of the Claims Conference.